MSNBC Hardball - Transcript

MSNBC Hardball - Transcript


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL for more on the NSA spy story and an update on the big election in Iraq yesterday, we turn to Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss from Georgia, who monitored the voting on Thursday over there in Iraq, himself.

And Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who sits on the committee on Homeland Security and governmental affairs.

Senator Saxby,give us the color of the game over there. The biggest bet the president ever made and it looks like it paid off this week.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS ® GEORGIA: Well, yesterday was a great day, a very historical day for the Iraqis, needless to say. And being on the ground with the Iraqi people like we were, Senator Biden, Senator Graham, Senator Cantwell, and myself, for the first time you had the opportunity to see the excitement in the eyes of people.

You had the opportunity to see their enthusiasm. They brought their children with them. They allowed their children to stick their finger in the ink just like they allowed us to do. It really was almost a festive feeling in some parts of Iraq yesterday.

MATTHEWS: How can you explain the participation by the minority Sunnis who know they are going to be outnumbered?

CHAMBLISS: Well, I think they learned their lesson. We asked that question over and over again. We had a meeting yesterday with the Iraqi Election Commission. There were eight Sunnis there. Every single one of them said we learned our lesson. We know now that we probably should have participated last time. We didn‘t. We aren‘t going to let that happen again.

Even some of the insurgents, who apparently are Sunnis, protected people at the polling places to make sure that the Sunnis could get out and vote.

So I think they understand that this is a bigger game than one election, one constitution. It is going to prevail now, and they want to be part of it.

MATTHEWS: Senator Lautenberg, will this relieve the pressure to bring back the troops for a while? Will the president get a little slack in this?

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D) NEW JERSEY: Listen, first of all, I congratulate the administration for having seen this election take place. But you have got to remember, this is maybe the fifth round in a 12 round fight. We have got a long way to go. We want it to succeed. Believe me we do.

But the fact of the matter is it cannot succeed and ignore the fact that there is a terrible penalty being paid by lots of families, lots of people across this country. And when we look at what the budget is going to be. It is going to be $300 billion before we know it probably headed toward a half trillion dollars. So there are questions to be asked.

And again we hope that success will come. Because we want our people back home safely, and if in the same time we can see a Democratic Iraq it would be great. But the principal thing for me is how do we get people home who have been away, some as many as three years.

MATTHEWS: Is the success of the electoral process so far over there a case for leaving our troops there at least another couple more years? Will we be yanking them this coming year?

LAUTENBERG: I think if there is a clear plan that says this is what we‘re going to do as they get themselves ready to take over. We are drawing down, and we expect that in the next 12 months or whatever it is that this is the level we might be at and then two years we‘ll be clear out of there.

But the president, himself, said just because this is taking place doesn‘t mean that there is an end to the violence that we can expect. And that, I think, is the thing that we have to be most wary of.

MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to the dark side. The National Security Agency story that ran in "The New York Times" today that said that the National Security Agency, which basically used electronic devices to monitor and to wiretap foreigners, has been used against American groups since 9/11 without any kind of court orders or warrants. They‘ve just gone ahead and done it. Is that OK?

CHAMBLISS: Well, you know, Chris, we‘re in very unusual circumstances in this country since September 11. We now know that there are people inside of America that want to kill and harm Americans. We know there are terrorists here.

Do we indiscriminately spy on these individuals? No, absolutely not. What that story said today and frankly I don‘t know whether the facts in the story, what they said are true or not.

But I know this. They said that where there are individuals outside the United States who are suspected terrorists, our contacting individuals inside the United States, that they have been monitoring some of their phone calls, some of their emails.

They also said that when there is a conversation between somebody inside the United States and somebody else inside the United States they are not using this particular authority to monitor any calls.

LAUTENBERG: And even in wartime and we certainly have those concerns, the fact is we should not be violating rights like that, peeking into people‘s homes, listening to their conversations without a court order, without some sense of what is...

MATTHEWS: Even the militant Islamic groups that have been espousing this kind of—festering or pushing this kind of festering anti-western attitude?

LAUTENBERG: Well, if there is reasonable belief that some terrorist activity is taking place, then go to the court, get a warrant and do it the old fashioned way which says protect our rights at home.

Listen, I fought in a war that took place a long time ago and we were all concerned about keeping a tight lip, but our rights were protected individually. And I think that has to happen. If you resort to just jumping on innocent people‘s privacy, I think that‘s a bad start and a bad direction.

MATTHEWS: Senator Saxby, what about going after these Quaker groups? The Pentagon, according to Lisa Myers‘ report, has been, you know, spying, basically, on these Quaker groups, the anti-war groups, American groups, homegrown groups.

CHAMBLISS: I don‘t know anything about that. Again, that‘s part of the facts in the story, whether true or not they have not been substantiated. But, you know, we do know that there has been surveillance of domestic groups for years. That‘s nothing new.

But let me tell you what the alternative to this story is, because this happened. We know that Osama bin Laden was communicating over the airways with his lieutenants and other people around the world. That came out in a story in a major United States magazine.

As a result of that story, all of a sudden bin Laden went underground.

We‘ve never picked up another communication of bin Laden‘s over the air. That was done secretly. This is being done secretly to a minimal number of persons who are known terrorists.

LAUTENBERG: Well, I think it‘s a terrible example because we said we know where bin Laden is very specifically and here we haven‘t touched him yet and it‘s all these years. We don‘t know whether he‘s alive or dead. The same thing is true of Zarqawi.

Listen, we have to protect ourselves. Nobody would sacrifice a danger to our families for some unreasonable restriction. But on the other hand, we are a nation of laws. And I think we have to start with that premise. If we‘re talking about creating a democracy there, is it a democracy that can spy on their neighbors or listen in on their telephone calls? I don‘t think so.

MATTHEWS: This just sounds like the Democratic party is concerned primarily about civil liberties in these kind of cases and you, Senator, are primarily concerned about the war effort and that it is almost like the end justifies the means. We can do things if we have to to win the war.

CHAMBLISS: Well, Frank said we haven‘t found bin Laden. Well, we haven‘t. But if we had been able to pick up his communications over the airways for the last three years, we would have found bin Laden by now.

MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with Senator Saxby Chambliss and Senator Frank Lautenberg. They have been held over by popular demand. You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We‘re back with senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

Is—the Patriot Act got held up today because you couldn‘t get the votes for cloture. Are you, as a senator, a Democrat from New Jersey, against continuing the Patriot Act? Where do you rMD+DN_rMDNM_stand?

LAUTENBERG: Well, I‘m against some parts of it. And when we see that they can go search in a library or other place that is a private area without having to get any kind of permission to do so, I think it‘s wrong. And we proposed an extension of the current act so it would give us the time to do this thing more thoughtfully instead of rushing into it under the guise of getting out of here and completing our work. It‘s not an honest approach in my view. It needs review.

MATTHEWS: Senator Chambliss?

CHAMBLISS: Well, there is no question we need to continue the Patriot Act, need to continue all the provisions of it. There are 16 provisions, two of them involved sunsets—that is where the real issues are. I meet with my joint terrorism task force in Georgia occasionally.

I have never met with those folks when FBI agents didn‘t tell me without the Patriot Act, we simply wouldn‘t be able to do our investigation and interrupt and disrupt terrorist activities like we‘ve been able to do. There‘s no question ...

MATTHEWS: 9/11, Senator, is going to haunt us for our lives. It‘s an iconic event, you know, all those people getting killed, more than Pearl Harbor or anything. Do you think we could have stopped it if we were doing what we were doing now. Would we have those guys off the plane?

Would we have caught them in the first place? Would we have caught Moussaoui? I mean, we did catch Moussaoui, we didn‘t know what he was up to. Do we have what it takes right now to save this country from another one?

CHAMBLISS: Under ideal conditions, Chris, I would say yes, we could. And by ideal conditions I mean that if we had had all of the watch lists in the right hands of folks on the airlines, folks at State Department who were issuing visas, if we had had it on the NCIC which the Patriot Act provides for where law enforcement officials been able to punch in the name of somebody after they stopped them for a traffic offense, you know, chances are pretty good we might have been able to do a better job of stopping them. Could we have stopped it totally? I don‘t know.

LAUTENBERG: But we had advance information. We had warnings that there was something afoot that was going to us bring disaster and we chose not to act on it—not chose not to act on it. We failed to act on it.

MATTHEWS: Well, because of the concerns you have about civil liberties, too.

LAUTENBERG: Well, I don‘t think that was the concern. I think the concern was the fact that it was just some information that just wasn‘t—it didn‘t get its proper place.

MATTHEWS: Weren‘t you all shocked when you look back on it, that 9/11, by that afternoon, we had a whole picture display of all the guys on the planes who did it, that we knew their names, we knew who they were, that we knew all this about the 19 killers of 9/11. They‘re all dead, it‘s too late, and all the people were dead but we knew everything about them.

We had pictures from the Wal-Mart, we had pictures from the check-in, of the ATM machine. We had pictures of Mohamed Atta‘s day, that amazing electronic ability to get stuff but it didn‘t do us any good.

CHAMBLISS: So we weren‘t prepared for an act of terrorism to occur

LAUTENBERG: But we weren‘t restricted in getting it.

CHAMBLISS: But we‘re better prepared today.

MATTHEWS: Happy holidays, gentlemen.

CHAMBLISS: Thank to you to, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much for coming over. Thank you Senator Saxby Chambliss, Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Join us again—you people out there—Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to be on the show. Right now, it‘s time for the "ABRAMS REPORT" with Dan.